Cases of COVID-19 have been rising among children and young adults since October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in new research that suggests that college reopenings may have worsened outbreaks.
The agency said that while opening elementary and high schools does not lead to a surge in new cases, reopening colleges and universities might.
The study, released Wednesday, examined cases from March 1 until Dec. 12 and found that cases were highest among young people in December. In the week of Dec 6-12, reported infections ranged from 99.9 cases per 100,000 among ages 0-4 to 379.3 among ages 18-24.
Part of the explanation may be due to higher testing among children as the pandemic wore on. In the week beginning May 31, 435,434 tests were given to ages 0-24. By the week beginning Dec 6, over 2.2 million tests were given.
But it cannot be explained entirely by testing. Tests for COVID-19 among children and young adults began to increase steadily in August. The current increase among young people didn’t begin until October, when a nationwide surge began.
The study casts doubt on the theory that reopening preschools, elementary schools, or high schools leads to a higher incidence of COVID-19 among adults. “Case data do not indicate that increases in incidence or percentage of positive test results among adults were preceded by increases among preschool- and school-aged children and adolescents,” the study states.
However, the reopening of colleges and universities might be responsible for the fall surge. Cases among ages 18-24 showed “peaks in mid-July and early September that preceded increases among other age groups, suggesting that young adults might contribute more to community transmission than do younger children,” the study concluded.